When my husband and I were wedding planning over a decade ago, I remember how much we wished that we could just have a small, simple wedding ceremony and be done with it. We wanted the sacrament, not the party and the pictures. I remember going to a daily Mass after a particularly stressful afternoon of venue searching. After Mass, we witnessed a small con-validation ceremony, and it was a powerful witness and reminder to us that the sacrament truly was the most important thing.
But all that being said – we had the luxury of having a typical wedding, surrounded by all our family and friends. We had concelebrants and many, many out of town guests. We were hugged and hugged everyone. No one wore a mask. Everyone danced together, without a care for social distancing. And even the most elderly members of our family were able to attend without a concern for their safety.
In other words – we did not have a pandemic wedding. It was 2009. We could not have imagined such a thing. And, for all the romanticizing that we did about getting married in a smaller way, in the end that was not what God asked of us.
But maybe, dear engaged brothers and sisters…it is what he is asking of you. Maybe, you are finding yourselves faced with the reality of a pandemic wedding. Maybe there will be masks, social distancing, no party, no hugs, no friends, and only a few family members. I do not feel right giving you my advice about that because – I did not have to make that sacrifice.
However, I know what consolation I find in the lives of the saints. I know that there really is a saint for every occasion, and anything that you are facing is likely something that a saint can relate to. I am sure that there were unknown saints who were married in previous pandemics. It may be that this story from your life will be a part of your own future hagiography. You never know what God’s plans are! But, either way, if you are grieving the loss of the wedding that you dreamed of, I do have some saints who you can look to.
Sts. Louis and Zelie – patron saints of small weddings
Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux (and the first married couple to be canonized together) were no strangers to getting married in unusual circumstances. Living in France in the 19th century, the political climate was not sympathetic to Catholicism. Before getting married in the Church, they were obliged by law to be married civilly. They did not consider that to be their real wedding, though. Their real wedding was a small, quiet affair. In the book The Story of a Family – The Home of St. Therese of Lisieux by Fr. Stephane-Joseph Piat, O.F.M., describes the wedding of the Martins in beautiful simplicity:
“The ceremony took place at midnight, as quietly as possible, as though to enjoy only the sacred, Christian aspect of the ceremony; perhaps also because the great works of God are in accomplished in the night silence…”
Hidden from the eyes of the world – without a party or a crowd of loved ones – the Martins took their vows of marriage in the presence of a priest. They gave God their “yes” without pomp or circumstance. And from that quiet, simple ceremony, God built a marriage that led to their sainthood (as well as the sainthood of their children). The author does not tell us whether Louis and Zelie would have wanted more support on their special day. They do not strike me as the personality types who would have wanted a big party, but surely, they would have loved to have been surrounded by loved ones, celebrating their union. Who would not want to be surrounded by love when you say yes to the vocation of love that God has given you? And yet – their quiet wedding is the one that is held up as the example which we may follow. Their witness shows the sanctity of choosing the sacrament over the party.
And to be clear – big, beautiful weddings are a profound witness to the world. If done from a place of joy in the vocation of marriage and delight in the sacrament, then they can be a sign to the world of the love of Christ. (Of course, they can also be an occasion for materialism and distraction from the main event, but I am assuming that anyone reading this article falls into the former category, not the latter.) If you are grieving the loss of a big, beautiful wedding, it is not a sign of failure. It is good and healthy to want to be surrounded by your loved ones and having them share in your joy.
But, if you are pushing past that grief and having your wedding, anyway – here is some encouragement to you.
Pandemic Weddings as Witness
You, my engaged brothers, and sisters – you are a sign of hope to the world. If you are getting married now, in the midst of a pandemic – with masks, social distancing, a small group of your closest family members, and little or no reception – you are giving the world a profound witness of what this sacrament means.
Those who attended my wedding eleven years ago surely noticed the joy that my husband and I had at our nuptial Mass. But, most of them talked later about how much they enjoyed the reception. In the end, our wedding was no more or less remarkable than every other wedding.
This is not true of your wedding. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind what matters the most to you. If you are getting married right now, despite the sacrifices involved, you are proclaiming to all your loved ones that your vocation and this sacrament matters more to you than a party. It matters more to you than the wedding you dreamed of.
You, dear brothers, and sisters, remind me and all married couples (and dating couples), of what marriage is truly about. It is about giving God our “yes” to a vocation – a vocation in which we, too, learn how to daily lay down our lives for the sake of another.
I know that your wedding might not be what you had dreamed of, but…thank you. Thank you, for your witness. Thank you for saying yes to God’s call, just as Louis and Zelie Martin did, all those years ago. I pray that your marriage may be as fruitful as theirs.
image: Relics of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin via Judgefloro / Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)